Kansas legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers passed away on Wednesday at the age of 77.
Nicknamed the “Kansas Comet”, Sayers established himself throughout his collegiate and professional career as one of the great running backs in the history of football. A two-time All-America selection for the Jayhawks, Sayers concluded his KU career with 2,675 yards rushing and 3,917 all-purpose yards.
Sayers led KU in rushing, touchdowns and kickoff returns all three years he was in the lineup. He also led the team in receiving and punt returns as a junior and senior. Sayers became the first player in NCAA Division IA history to record a 99-yard run when he broke loose against Nebraska in Lincoln during the 1963 season.
Sayers also had a 96-yard kickoff return in a 15-14 upset of Oklahoma his senior season. Sayers was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears (and Kansas City Chiefs) and had an abbreviated seven-year NFL career that was cut short by a knee injury. He led the league in rushing in 1966 and 1969.
Sayers retired in 1972 with a career total of 4,956 rushing yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 at age 34, the youngest person ever selected. In a relatively short career, Sayers compiled a record that can never be forgotten.
He totaled 9,435 combined net yards, 4,856 yards rushing and 336 points scored. At the time of retirement, he was the NFL’s all-time leader in kickoff returns. Sayers won All-NFL honors five straight years and was named Offensive Player of the Game in three of the four Pro Bowls in which he played.
He served as an assistant athletics director at his alma mater from 1972-76. Most recently, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) inducted Gale Sayers into the John McLendon Minority Athletics Administrators Hall of Fame on June 19, 2009.
Statement from Director of Athletics Jeff Long “One of the greatest, if not the greatest, players to ever wear a Kansas football uniform, Gale Sayers was a trailblazer on and off the field. There are only three numbers retired in the history of our football program, and the number 48 jersey worn by the “Kansas Comet” is one of those.
“His achievements on the field are well documented and he certainly left his mark on the KU football and NFL records books, but Gale Sayers was far more than a football player, he is one of the finest men to ever grace our program. We are so proud of the way he represented our University and the entire State of Kansas.
“In less than two weeks, we will be unveiling the Gale Sayers statue at halftime of the Oklahoma State game on October 3rd. Thankfully Gale was able to be involved throughout the sculpting process and had a chance to see photos of the finished statue. It is a long overdue honor and will be a bittersweet ceremony, but this will allow us the opportunity to forever immortalize another KU football legend.
“Football fans everywhere that were fortunate enough to watch him play or meet this wonderful man, all mourn the loss of Gale Sayers. Our deepest condolences to his amazing wife Ardie and the rest of the Sayers family. A true hero, Gale will be greatly missed.”
Statement from Head Coach Les Miles “We are saddened to hear of the passing of Kansas great, Gale Sayers. I cherished every opportunity to watch him play and I am privileged to coach in the stadium that he once played in. He had a remarkable impact on the game of football and the University of Kansas, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Statement from Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker “The “Kansas Comet” burst onto the scene in the National Football League and captured the attention of all of America. Despite playing only 68 NFL games because of an injury-shortened career, Gale was a clear-cut — and first-ballot — Hall of Famer for his accomplishments on the field and for the man of character he was in life.
“Sharing a room with Brian Piccolo — the first interracial roommates in the NFL — set an example for racial equality in the League and across the country. In many ways, our country is still trying to emulate the courage, commitment, compassion and excellence Gale has demonstrated since first setting foot on a football field in Kansas.”
Since 1959, KU seniors have chosen a professor to receive the H.O.P.E. Award to Honor an Outstanding Progressive Educator. The award, established by the Class of 1959 and given each year through the Board of Class Officers, is the only teaching honor bestowed by the senior class.
Hailey Solomon, a senior from Oswego, nominated her civil engineering professor, Matt O’Reilly. When he was selected as a finalist, Solomon attended the Oct. 5 KU-OU football game to support her mentor. Uninterested in the game itself, Solomon brought her crocheting and presumed her presence had gone unnoticed.
Four million Twitter and Facebook views later, she had become a social media sensation.
“It was incredibly surprising to go to exactly one football game in my entire college career and leave it as a meme, but I’m thankful for the experience,” Solomon says. “If a 30-second video of me contentedly crocheting brings people joy, then I’m joyful too!”
O’Reilly, an associate professor, is one of the few people Solomon would attend a game for. She credits his guidance as an adviser during freshman orientation as the reason she had the confidence to pursue engineering. An excerpt from her nomination form shows O’Reilly’s investment in his students, even before they are in his classroom.
“You can absolutely be successful in engineering because engineering, like everything, is so much more than it appears,” O’Reilly told Solomon. “It’s not just math and science; it’s writing, communication, teamwork, design, and so much more. You can’t judge yourself based on what you’re not, otherwise you’ll never accomplish anything. You have to make decisions based on what you’re good at and get help with the rest.”
Standing on the field during the award presentation, O’Reilly presumed one of his fellow finalists already received word he or she had won, so when “Dr. O’Reilly” blared over the loudspeaker as the winner, it took a second to sink in. Then he jumped with surprise.
“Most of my students call me Dr. Matt, so it took me a bit longer to respond to ‘O’Reilly’ and realize ‘he’ was me,” he says. “Nothing like jumping in shock when you’re on the Jumbotron.”
O’Reilly’s care for his students led to the H.O.P.E. Award. He fills his lectures with humor, makes video tutorials for difficult lab procedures, and grades every assignment, including exams, the day they are turned in. His open-door policy extends beyond office hours: He has been known to drive to campus on a Saturday to help a student understand a topic that was better explained in person.
“I know my students like and appreciate what I do, and that’s always been a source of happiness for me,” O’Reilly says. “I couldn’t imagine having a better career than teaching.”
His style derives from his own favorite teachers, student feedback, and trial and error. He constantly adjusts to best suit the needs of his students.
“The common thread was always putting students first and treating them with respect, and I strive to always hold myself to that,” he says.
As for Solomon, her crocheting is more than a hobby. She co-founded Warm the World, a student organization that makes warm clothes and blankets to donate to local homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The group meets every other Wednesday in the Union and is open to all students, regardless of skill level.
Solomon’s 15 minutes of fame made for a fun weekend, but the real story continues a cherished 60-year KU tradition: Matt O’Reilly’s teaching has earned him a place among the professors enshrined on the H.O.P.E Award plaque in the Kansas Union.
At Andale High School, in the small community of Andale in Sedgwick County, one senior pulls straight into Allen Fieldhouse by way of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
A recent and growing tradition, some high schools let their seniors paint their own parking spots, a fun way to show off their interests and art skills. Nick Summers, a senior at Andale High, teamed up with his grandfather to paint a Jayhawk masterpiece.
“I have always been a huge Jayhawk fan,” Summers says. “I go to all the home football games and senior night basketball game every year. Since I love both football and basketball I decided to combine them to make a parking spot.
“It took a lot of work; we used stencils that my grandfather made to get the details so exact. It took a lot of paint and a long time, about two weeks to finish.”
The end result is a sight to see:
So, is the University of Kansas in his future? Perhaps an art degree is in order.
“I plan on going to college after high school,” Summers says. “I have my heart set on Kansas but am exploring other options as well. It’s always been my dream to attend Kansas.”
Until then, he’s enjoying his senior year in style.
“All the teachers and students think it’s awesome, even the K-State fans!”
We love sharing stories of KU fans showing their Jayhawk spirit in unique ways. Send your story with pictures to [email protected].
Thousands of Jayhawks made the trip to Corinth Square to celebrate a new school year and football season at the 14th annual KU Kickoff, presented by the KU Alumni Association and Kansas Athletics.
Brian Hanni, the voice of the Jayhawks, hosted the event. KU Alumni Association president Heath Peterson, Chancellor Doug Girod, athletics director Jeff Long and head football coach Les Miles all spoke to the Kansas City crowd, thanking them for their continued support of the University and inviting them to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for the 2019 football season, beginning with Indiana State on Aug. 31.
The Les Miles era in KU football launches at 11 a.m. Saturday, as the Jayhawks take on Indiana State in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. As fans prepare for the much-anticipated premiere, take note of a few new wrinkles planned for the game-day atmosphere, including:
The “preferred” ride-share drop-off point for pregame Uber and Lyft traffic is on Memorial Drive, atop the Hill south of the stadium. A pickup location outside of the postgame traffic pattern has been established for ride-share traffic at metered parking on Indiana Street, in front of HERE Apartments.
Rather than walking down the Hill, players and coaches will now be dropped off at the stadium’s south perimeter, near the practice fields, two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff, and walk from there to the Anderson Family Football Complex. Fans are encouraged to line the walk to greet and cheer on the ‘Hawks.
Watch for players taking the field through a new team tunnel, now outfitted with pyrotechnics, and new high-definition ribbon boards in the north end zone that will feature updated game stats and crowd prompts.
New concessions from Centerplate will include loaded tater tots, cheeseburger rollers, chicken rollers and bacon-wrapped chops.
And, yes, we’ve saved the big news for last: Under KU’s new beer-and-wine sales policy, the following will be available for purchase inside the stadium: Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Goose Island IPA, Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Note that with alcohol sales now permitted inside the stadium, a no re-entry policy will be strictly enforced, and alcohol sales will stop at the end of the third quarter.
Kansas Athletics has partnered with the Jayhawk Buddy System, a student-led safety initiative, to provide four hydration stations throughout the stadium, and fans can bring in one unopened or empty bottle of water per person. In addition, four Designated Driver Stations will be available, one in each corner of the main concourse, and each fan who signs up as a designated driver will receive a voucher for a free Aquafina or Pepsi beverage.
Heading to Lawrence for game day? Find all the information you need to enjoy game day at the University of Kansas, including tailgate information, local shuttles, clear bag policies, and more.
The University of Kansas has a long history of traditions at Commencement, but one tradition with a Jayhawk connection is celebrated at graduations everywhere.
The regalia that graduates wear for their official conferral of degrees looks much the same no matter what college or university you visit. The origins of the regalia can be traced to John McCook.
McCook is known in KU history as the benefactor of McCook Field, KU’s first football field before Memorial Stadium’s construction in 1921. (One of the construction workers on Memorial Stadium was none other than John Wooden, but that’s a story for another day.)
McCook, a lieutenant colonel in the Civil War (along with his father, eight brothers and five cousins—all Civil War officers, known as the “Fighting McCooks”), graduated from Kenyon College and Harvard Law.
As general counsel and director of the Santa Fe Railroad, McCook worked with Kansas Regent Charles Gleed, who was employed in the legal department under McCook. Recognizing that KU needed money for an athletic field and faced with the fact that the state had none to give, Regent Gleed recommended that KU invite McCook to speak at Commencement.
In 1890, McCook gave the Commencement address and received an honorary degree from the University. The former colonel made a $1,500 donation to launch the construction of McCook Field in 1892.
John McCook also chaired a committee at Princeton on the standardization of academic regalia, with the goal being “the adoption of a uniform academic costume.” At the time, graduates’ attire often varied by university. Unlike European universities, which practiced a complex system of academic dress with varying colors and patterns based on the occasion, McCook and the committee emphasized the uniformity you see today.
In 1895, McCook and the committee introduced their recommendations as the Intercollegiate Code of Academic Costume. KU was one of the first colleges to participate, and the first class wore caps and gowns in 1897. KU faculty followed suit in 1908.
To learn more about Commencement, including the history of class banners, honorary degrees, and the special experience for Big and Baby Jays, read our full feature, The Walk.
As David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium approaches its 100th year, one researcher has set out to find untold stories of the historic building.
Howard Graham, g’09, spends his days in the Office of First Year Experience as associate director of academic programs. He’s also a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.
Graham’s dissertation has him deep diving into the history of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. More than just memories from football games, Graham is looking for the experiences students, alumni, and fans have all shared in the building.
“I want to make sure we have living memories,” said Graham. “I want living stories for future researchers, for students, faculty and staff to be able to go into the archives and read your stories, and to best understand how Memorial Stadium has been a part of this community.”
Conversation with Howard Graham
David Johnston, vice president for strategic communications and digital media at the KU Alumni Association, sat down with Howard Graham to discuss the history of the nearly 100-year-old center of campus.
Part one includes discussions on the commonality of Memorial Stadium experiences, and Johnston, j’94, g’06, shared his own Memorial Stadium memories from attending the Kansas Relays as a boy, which led to him competing for the KU track and field team.
(If listening on a mobile device, click “Listen in browser.” If you already have the SoundCloud app installed, or want to install it, click “Play on SoundCloud.”
Part two’s topics include the first walk down the Hill for Commencement, the annual Traditions Night to welcome freshmen, and how the game of football has changed from its violent beginnings.
Alumni are invited to share their memories of Memorial Stadium, whether they include football games, track meets, traditions night, commencement, or any kind of gathering in the historic stadium set at the foot of the Hill.
If you have a Memorial Stadium experience you’d like to share, email your stories to Howard at [email protected].
The University of Kansas will celebrate its 107th Homecoming Oct. 19-26, culminating in the KU football game against Texas Tech Oct. 26 in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
The KU Alumni Association and the Student Alumni Leadership Board will coordinate the week of Homecoming activities. Association staff members leading the effort are Ally Stanton, director of student programs, and Keon Stowers, assistant director of student programs. KU’s Homecoming tradition began in 1912.
Homecoming leaders will meet throughout the spring semester to select a theme and finalize the schedule of activities, which will include competitions for student organizations, community service activities, reunions, the Homecoming parade and pep rally, and the selection of 10 student finalists for the Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership (Ex.C.E.L.) Awards. The winners will be announced during halftime of the football game Oct. 26.
Money was tight for Joanie DeGraw Jones and her family in the late 1960s, so she was only able to spend her freshman year at KU before returning home and completing her nursing studies in Kansas City, Kansas.
Jones, ’72, made the most of her limited time on the Hill, however, joining the Frosh Hawks pep club and cheering on the football ’Hawks as they stormed through a one-loss 1968 season on their way to a Big Eight championship and a trip to the Jan. 1, 1969, Orange Bowl in Miami.
While watching classmates pile into southbound cars, buses and trains for a trip she could not afford, Jones consoled herself by purchasing two keepsakes: a short-sleeved KU Orange Bowl sweatshirt and the custom-pressed single “Hawk it to ’Em,” by The Tips.
“I am really sad that I didn’t get to finish all four years,” says Jones, now retired from a long nursing career at Providence Medical Center, “but I treasure my things from there.”
She recently pulled the mint-condition sweatshirt and red-vinyl record from a sealed bag tucked safely in the back of her closet, where they’d been stored for 50 years, and asked her children what they might do with the mementos if they inherited them.
“They really couldn’t give me an answer,” Jones says, “and I thought, you know what? I’m just going to call [University Archives, in Spencer Research Library], and the lady said, ‘We don’t have anything like that. We’d love to have it.’ I wanted it be somewhere where it will be taken care of and treasured.”
Jones’ sweatshirt and record recently joined University Archives’ student life collection, significantly boosting KU’s holdings of 1969 Orange Bowl items, including photographs, negatives and color slides donated by the Alumni Association (which can be viewed with an “Orange Bowl” search here); a media guide and game program; and an as-new carry-on bag given to travelers by Maupintour.
“This is one of the best collections that we have that reflects student life at the time,” says Archivist Becky Schulte, c’76. “We don’t really have this much for any other athletic event that I know of. This is really exceptional. These photos of players with fans, signing autographs, lounging by the pool, we just don’t get that kind of stuff.”
As for her own keepsakes, Jones says she “treasured them all this time,” but she’s glad she decided to donate them to University Archives while she’s still here to savor the satisfaction of her decision to pass them along for sharing and safekeeping.
“I’m glad I’m alive to enjoy what I’ve done,” Jones says, “rather than donating after somebody passes away. I wanted to see that they benefited somebody else.”
The University of Kansas released the following statement on Sunday, Nov. 18.
Les Miles, a national championship-winning former coach at Louisiana State and Oklahoma State, has been named the new head football coach at the University of Kansas, Kansas Athletics Director Jeff Long announced Sunday.
Miles will be formally introduced at a press conference today at 5 p.m. The press conference will be streamed live and may be viewed by clicking here. He will then do a special “Hawk Talk” radio show at 7 p.m. from Johnny’s West restaurant in West Lawrence.
With Miles’ hiring, Kansas becomes the only university in the country that can boast a current men’s basketball coach with an NCAA Division I Championship and a football coach with an FBS Championship.
Miles will receive a five-year contract that will pay him $2,775,000 annually, with additional retention bonuses due in Nov. 2020 and Nov. 2022.
“Since the beginning of our search, we focused on identifying and recruiting an experienced head coach with a strong track record of success on and off the field,” Long said. “Les Miles is exactly what we need for our program right now. His national reputation as a great recruiter and as a coach who student-athletes love playing for will enable us to break the cycle and return a winning tradition to the Kansas Jayhawks. We are thrilled to have Les and his family as Jayhawks.”
Miles brings to Lawrence 142 victories, a BCS national championship and two SEC titles in 15-plus seasons as a head coach, the most career wins of anyone who has coached football at Kansas in the modern era.
Most recently, Miles served as the head coach at LSU (2005-16), where his teams averaged 10 wins per year in his 11 full seasons. He led LSU to bowl games in each of those 11 seasons (winning seven), and won 42 games against Top-25 teams and 16 over Top-10 teams. Miles’ teams won 10 or more games seven times, reached the SEC title game three times (winning twice) and led LSU to five Top-10 and three Top-5 finishes.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to lead the KU football program and I am grateful to Chancellor Girod and Jeff Long for the opportunity,” said Miles. “We will bring Jayhawk Football back and we will do it with outstanding coaches, tremendous student-athletes of character and ability and an unrelenting drive for excellence. My family and I cannot wait to be a part of the KU family!”
During his tenure at LSU, Miles coached an SEC-leading 69 NFL draft picks, 13 of them first-round selections. He coached 22 first-team All-Americans and 11 players who won national awards. He is the second-winningest coach in LSU history in overall wins (112) and SEC regular-season wins (63).
In the classroom, more than 240 players earned degrees under Miles and during his tenure, LSU Football’s graduation rate ranked as high as No. 2 in the SEC multiple times. As part of LSU’s Project Graduation established in 2010, more than 30 players who had left school without a degree returned to earn their college diploma before Miles left in 2016. Nearly 190 LSU players were named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll during Miles’ time there.
“I want to thank Jeff Long for his outstanding work and leadership of our Athletics’ program. I also want to thank the student-athletes in our football program for the mature way in which they have handled this challenging circumstance. I have no doubt that Coach Miles will have an immediate impact on our football program, and on our university,” Chancellor Girod said. “Together as Jayhawks, we will rebuild our football program the right way, winning championships and continuing to graduate young men of character. Today is an exciting day for the KU Family.”
Miles went to LSU after a four-year tenure as head coach at Oklahoma State. The OSU program he took over in 2001 had registered only one winning season since 1988. The Cowboys went 4-7 his first year, then had three-straight winning seasons (8-5, 9-4, 7-5). He led OSU to three-straight bowl games, a first for the program since 1983-85.
Miles’ four-year winning percentage of 57 percent is the best career winning percentage for an OSU coach since 1949. OSU was the only team in the nation to beat Oklahoma twice during Miles’ four-year tenure there.
Prior to OSU, Miles spent three years as tight-ends coach with the Dallas Cowboys (one divisional title, two playoff appearances). He went to Dallas after serving as offensive coordinator at OSU for three seasons (8-3, Alamo Bowl berth in 1997).
Miles served two stints (total of 10 seasons) as an assistant coach at Michigan, several of them under legendary head coach Bo Schembechler. During Miles’ second tenure there, from 1987-94, Michigan won 71 games, made eight-straight bowl appearances, including four Rose Bowls, and finished no lower than No. 21 in the final Associate Press national rankings.
Between tenures at Michigan, Miles spent four seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Colorado.
Miles graduated from Michigan in 1976 with a degree in economics. He was a two-year football letterman, playing on two Big Ten championship teams. He earned all-state honors in football at Elyria High School in Ohio, where he also earned letters in baseball and wrestling.
Miles’ wife, Kathy, was a point guard at Central Michigan University and later an assistant basketball coach at Michigan. They have two daughters, Kathryn (nickname “Smacker”), a former swimmer at Texas and currently a TV sports personality who hosts Les’ podcast), and Macy, a youth softball pitching standout. They also have two sons, Manny, a quarterback at North Carolina, and Ben, who won a high-school football state title in 2015 and is currently a fullback at Texas A&M.